City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
City Council members fiddled with their respective pens, rested chins on palms of hands and listened intently to the 12 speakers who came forward Tuesday night at City Hall, where a public hearing was held regarding the much-debated SPA Housing Zoning Ordinance.
The goal of the plan – initially proposed in 2006 - is to produce “affordable” homebuyer and rental housing units for working households across the city. That last part – across the city – appears to be a major sticking point for some.
Tuesday night, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus addressed the council and recommended they seek “site-specific” affordable housing projects to be placed in designated locations, rather than the across-the-city policy the Inclusionary Zoning, or IZ proposal offers.
Sustainable Saratoga Chairman Harry Moran, who resurrected the plan when bringing it to the council last year, pointed to the council’s study of the plan as “a watershed moment” in the city’s history, and local Rev. Joseph Cleveland – who also spoke in favor of the IZ – told the council that a citywide diversity would help make Saratoga Springs a more sustainable city and that “we should not put gates up between communities.”
A vote scheduled for Tuesday to amend the existing Zoning Ordinance to add Inclusionary Zoning – as well as a vote regarding the SEQRA Determination for the SPA Housing (IZ) ordinance - was tabled until Monday, June 19, the date of the next City Council meeting. The vote requires majority approval of the five council members to be adopted and it is not clear, at this point, which way that vote will go.
7 p.m. Monday, June 12: Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting at City Hall.
3 - 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 13: Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Technical Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) Meeting at Saratoga Music Hall.
Who: Dave Patterson.
Where: Congress Park.
What are you doing today?
Taking a group of fourth-graders from Geyser Road Elementary School on an outside tour of Congress Park. When my group is finished, we’re going to switch with Jamie Parillo – he’s the director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum – and he will take the students on an inside tour of the history museum. This is part of the fourth-grade program on local history.
Where are you from originally?
Originally from South Boston. I’ve been living in Saratoga for about 40 years now. I used to be president of the history museum, and I used to teach a course on local history at Saratoga high school.
How has Saratoga changed in the 40 years since you’ve been here?
It’s changed quite a bit. The buildings have been sprouting like flowers, but way back in the day, in the 1880s, there were buildings over there (on Broadway) that were taller than they are now. As a matter of fact, the largest hotel in the world used to be right across the street from this park: The Grand Union hotel. So as big as Saratoga is getting now with the buildings, it pales in comparison to what it was in the 1880s.
Student question: How long have the springs been in Congress Park?
One of the first springs discovered in Saratoga Springs is called Congress Spring – right over there. A man named Nicholas Gilman found water bubbling out of the ground and brought his friends to it. Because he used to be a member of the Continental Congress, they named it Congress Spring, and it was so important that this whole park used to be called Congress Spring Park.
Student question: How many springs are there?
We have 17 today. At one time, we had just over 200.
Student question: How is Saratoga with the pollution?
Saratoga’s been pretty lucky because we haven’t had a lot of industry that would create pollution. Probably the biggest polluter in Saratoga Springs would be the automobile. Of course, 100 years ago we had horses and carriages - and horses have their own kind of pollution, if you know what I mean, so you had to keep the streets clean.
Student question: Are any of these places here haunted?
The building right behind you. Did you ever see a show called “Ghost Hunters”? Well a few years ago they came in and said there were spirits right in the museum here.
Student Response: Awesome!!!
Yaddo’s annual summer benefit will feature Terry McMillan, best-selling author of “Waiting to Exhale,” “A Day Late and A Dollar Short,” “The Interruption of Everything,” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” among others. The event will take place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 22. Proceeds from the benefit play a crucial role in ensuring the artists’ residency program continues to flourish. More than 6,500 individuals have created works at Yaddo – from literature and paintings, to photography, sculpture, music, dance and film – that have helped shape culture and touched millions of lives. For ticket information, go to: https://www.yaddo.org/.
Who: Elaina Richardson.
What are some of the best things Saratoga has to offer?
I’ve been here 17 years now and I love the number of trails for walking, running, and biking. Also, the combination of spending the day outdoors being very relaxed and then in the evening being at some of the most sophisticated art offerings in the world. You’re always combining both sides of your brain, in one beautiful place.
The mansion at Yaddo is nearing 125 years old and is set to undergo a restoration.
The work at the mansion begins next month. It’s a two-year process that will stabilize the building and include some modest upgrades. We’ve raised $6.5 million in a $10 million campaign, which is going very well and ahead of schedule, so we’ll be able to keep Yaddo at its very best for another century.
The annual Yaddo gala will take place June 22, feature Terry McMillan and will take place at a site on the grounds rarely seen by the public.
You will come up that wonderful driveway, you will still see the mansion, but nobody really gets to see past the mansion. This is going to take you behind West House – which is our mini-mansion - and will take place on the Great Lawn under a tent, which allows you to see where the graveyards and the guest areas are. When we have the event in the mansion we have to cut it off at 200 people. This will allow us to have more people come this year.
There has been an active outreach into the community in recent years.
There are two parts to the Yaddo in the Community Initiative. One is a partnership with Northshire Bookstore where we co-host events featuring leading authors who have a Yaddo connection. (Yaddo will present An Evening with Gail Godwin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 5 at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway). It’s a celebration of the author and it’s also where people can meet some of the current artists-in-residence.
There is also a program with the Saratoga Springs High School where we have had some of the junior and senior students choose an archival project associated with Yaddo. The students did a lot of research, were able to access to papers in the Yaddo archive and got to do some one-on-one interviews with Yaddo artists.
In addition to the restoration at the mansion, what else is in store for Yaddo in the future?
There are plans for landscape improvements and interventions which will really help the public areas of the grounds. Right now, we get over 50,000 visits a year and we want to make it a little easier for people to park and spend a whole afternoon picnicking, so you’ll begin to see some work going on in the public areas.
We’ll also be working a little more on balancing ways of having more spaces for readings and concerts during which the community can be invited in without undermining the retreat. So, there’s a lot going on and the next few years will be exciting.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The final draft of the proposed Saratoga Springs Charter was distributed Tuesday afternoon at the City Center, where members of the Charter Review Commission staged a daylong informational Open House. A referendum on the proposed changes of the way the city is governed will be on the November ballot.
The proposal calls for a change from the current “Commission” form of governing – the only form the city has known since its inception in 1915 – to a “council-manager” form, which is the most popular and most efficient form in the country, according to charter review member Pat Kane.
The council-manager structure specifies a composition of six councilmembers and one mayor – all electable positions – and one city manager, who would be hired by the council.
The city manager would direct and supervise administration of all departments, appoint and suspend or remove city employees, and prepare and submit the annual comprehensive budget and capital program plan to the council for approval.
The city manager would also represent the city in the collective bargaining process, as well as implement contracts on behalf of the council, and attend all council meetings, but will not cast a vote at the seven-member council table. The mayor would be recognized as the head of city government for ceremonial purposes, but have no administrative duties. Council meetings would continue to be held twice a month.
“I think local municipal government has gotten far more complicated and really does scream out for professional management,” Kane said. “These people would come in with skills that we just don’t have from an elected official prospective. It also opens the door for the local city council, where anyone can run with no requirements as far as job skills are concerned. “
The council would serve as the legislative and policy-making body of the city, conduct the search, set the salary and oversee the hiring and appointment of a city manager. Prerequisites for the city manager ‘s positions include a master’s degree with a concentration in public administration, public affairs, or public policy, and five years of managerial or administrative experience in municipal government. The salary for the position is anticipated to be in the $125,000 per-year range – which is higher than any current council member or deputy earns annually. It would ultimately provide financial savings however, the commission says, because the five current deputy positions – each earning about $73,000 annually (about $110,000 annually when benefits are factored in) would be eliminated or altered and would serve “at the pleasure of the city manager.”
“Most people thought it would be a deficit, but this would be a significant savings,” said Kane said, adding that bringing a professional level of qualified management to the city would eliminate weaknesses in current checks and balances, and guarantee a less expensive city government. “The efficiencies jump out at you. It’s so much more efficient when you’re running with one team as opposed to five teams. “
Detractors aren’t so sure a change would provide a financial savings and are additionally leery about what they say will be create more difficulty in communicating grievances with City Hall.
“Now if you have a problem you pick up the phone and call the department head. If you don’t like the answer, well, they’re only in there for two years,” Jane Weihe told a group of three dozen area residents who gathered at Gaffney’s on May 30 for a get-together of the SUCCESS group. The acronym stands for: Saratogians United to Continue the Charter Essential for Saratoga's Success. Those assembled vowed to fight against charter change.
Weihe said a citizen with an issue in the council-manager form of governing would need to bring the issue to the city manager and if the response wasn’t acceptable it would create an intricate process to lobby the majority of the city council to remove the department head, which would come at a financial price.
“Two questions: Who are you going to call, and what’s it going to cost,” Weihe said. The removal of a city manager would come either at the request of the city council, or by their majority vote, and would require a public hearing.
The May 30 date is significant. It was initially the day the referendum vote was to be held. Commission members had said the standalone date would give the proposition the attention it deserved rather than becoming muddied in an already busy election season in November. Detractors of the plan alleged an off-peak election was an attempt to suppress voter turnout.
“I moved here over 40 years ago and dealt with many mayors and council members. I’ve seen the system at work – and it works,” Joe Dalton told the SUCCESS group.
“To say that that it ain’t broke is probably the biggest misconception out there,” countered Kane. “It may feel like we have a multitude of success – and we do – but we can do better. It’s like an upgrade in software. We’re operating at Windows 1.0 when we should be operating at Windows 10. We’re not changing services, we’re changing how the services inter-relate to one another,” he said.
How a Transition Would Work
Should the change be approved by voters this November, in November 2019 residents would elect a mayor and six councilmen and the change would be enacted Jan. 1, 2020. The mayor and the three council members receiving the greatest number of votes would serve four-year terms; the remaining three council members would serve two-year terms. This would eventually be adjusted to have separately contested elections with staggered four-year terms for each of the seven members. Term limits would be set at a maximum of 12 years.
Compensation for the six council members, the mayor, and the city manager – as well as that of a potential assistant city manager – would be designated by the outgoing council in 2018. Two elected supervisor positions would continue in a similar capacity, although would eventually increase to four-year electable terms.
The City Manager at Work
“The city manager is the CEO and responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city,” explained Sharon Addison, city manager of Watertown, N.Y., which has a similar population and annual budget to Saratoga Springs.
“The city council legislates, adopts local laws and resolutions and it’s my responsibility to execute on that,” she said. “We’ve got multiple department heads – similar I think to your commissioners – and I work very closely with the department heads to make sure the goals and objectives are accomplished in each of those departments.”
Paid position staff members that report directly to Addison include the fire chief and police chief, superintendents of the DPW and Parks and Recreation, a city engineer, library director, purchasing manager, and city assessor. Overall, Addison oversees more than a dozen different departments, each with their own independent budgets that are combined into the general fund budget.
Addison worked for more than a quarter-century at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, prior to becoming Watertown’s city manager in 2012.
“Leadership and management qualities are pivotal, as well as experience in financial management,” she said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs Democratic Party will meet Thursday, June 8 when a vote is expected to take place to endorse a mayoral candidate.
On May 19, current city Mayor Joanne Yepsen publicly announced she would not seek re-election in November and “enthusiastically endorsed” Deputy Mayor Meg Kelly for the position. The announcement came just prior to a meeting by city Democrats. Committee chairman Charles Brown said while the prospect of selecting Kelly as the party’s choice for the mayoral seat was debated, there was insufficient time between Yepsen’s announcement and the previously scheduled gathering of the party to properly go through the review process.
During the interim, former Deputy Mayor Hank Kuczynski considered throwing his proverbial hat into the mayoral ring, but subsequently informed Democrats that he had re-considered that option due to time constraints that would be placed on the operation of his own business.
All five council seats, both supervisor positions and one city court judge position will be decided by voters in November.
Three currently seated Democrats are on the move: City Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen each announced that they will not seek re-election, and current Supervisor Peter Martin announced his intention to fill the seat being vacated by Mathiesen.
City Democrats had previously endorsed incumbents John Franck and Michele Madigan, current city judge Francine Vero, and newcomers Pat Friesen and Tara Gaston for the two Supervisor seats. Thus far, Kelly is the lone Democrat vying for mayor, and no potential candidate has come forward to challenge Republican incumbent DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.
Last month, city Republicans endorsed mayoral candidate Mark Baker; political newcomers Andrew Blumenberg – vying for a seat as City Court Judge, and Don Braim – who will be running for the position of Public Safety Commissioner; Saratoga County Supervisor candidate John Safford, and incumbent DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and Saratoga County Supervisor Matt Veitch.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Federal Agents conducted an operation Tuesday morning in Saratoga Springs, arresting 16 “unlawfully present foreign nationals,” according to an email statement issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in response to an inquiry seeking information regarding Tuesday’s events.
Special agents and officers with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement and Removal Operations conducted the operation following an ongoing investigation, according to the organization.
The men - one Guatemalan national and 15 Mexican nationals - are between the ages of 19 and 49 and currently face administrative immigration violations.
Jeff Many looked out his Division Street office window Tuesday morning and watched the activity going on in the parking lot below. As a long white van sat in the lot, a variety of cars and SUV’s periodically pulled next to it, transferring men in handcuffs from the smaller vehicles into the van, he said.
“I noticed the white van in the lot at around 7:30 in the morning. A female driver stayed behind with the van while the cars and SUV’s would leave then come back around every 20 minutes or so,” Many said. “This went on until 10 or 11.”
City police were informed of the arrival of federal agents, but played no role in the event, said Saratoga Springs Police Lt. Bob Jillson. “We were made aware of it. They let us know they were in town, but we weren’t a part of it. No other agencies were involved as far as I know.”
Nine of the men are facing potential federal felony charges for re-entry after deportation or visa fraud and are currently being held at the Albany County Correctional Facility.
According to the federal agency, the investigation is ongoing and no further information will be released at this time.
Late Thursday, city Mayor Joanne Yepsen released the following statement regarding the event:
I have spoken to top level Homeland Security officials to obtain as much information as permitted. ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcements) is carrying out the law and national agenda through ongoing investigations and targeted arrests. I absolutely respect the federal agency's authority to keep our cities and nation safe. My concern, as the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, is that we are a community that relies significantly on the hospitality and racing industry workforce. The well-timed, newly formed City Human Rights Task Force will be working diligently to conduct education, information and awareness raising activities and presentations, including the immigration process and why it's so difficult.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – One-time Frank Zappa vocalist and guitarist Ike Willis will perform a tribute to his former bandleader at the Parting Glass on Friday, June 2. Willis first joined Zappa's band in 1978 and appeared on over 30 albums.
Blurbage: Ike's distinctive, booming baritone on virtually every album and every tour from 1978 to 1988 earned him the title "The Voice of Zappa" for the second half of Frank's career. Ike is still touring internationally with tribute acts such as Dweezil Zappa and Project/Object, playing the music just as Frank had asked him to just before his untimely death in 1993.
Ike Willis and We Used to Cut the Grass – the latter an experimental ensemble from Asbury Park, New Jersey – will perform their tribute to Frank Zappa at 8 p.m. on June 2 at The Parting Glass, on Lake Avenue. Tickets are $15, and are available at: http://zappatribute.brownpapertickets.com/.
Minnie Clark Bolster has collected thousands of pieces of historic memorabilia related to the city which she has called home for nearly a century. A new book, “Elegant and Fashionable as Seen Through the Eyes of Artists and the Words of Writers, 1787-1847,” depicts local life and architecture in prints and text, and was inspired by the research initially conducted by her friend, the late Sonia Taub. The 102-page publication features over 40 engravings, woodcuts and lithographs, many of which are extremely rare. Proceeds from the sale of the book, which is $24.95, benefits the Saratoga Springs History Museum. The museum, located in the Canfield Casino in Congress Park, will host a book signing and reception with Minnie Bolster at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 8. The event is free and open to the public.
Who: Minnie Bolster.
Where: At home in Saratoga Springs.
- Tell us about the new book.
- Well, if you call this mine, this would be the fourth one. I just had to do this, to save it from the wastebasket, because I knew what it was. From cover-to-back it is a history of our city from 1787 to 1847. Everything you ever wanted to know about our city, in prints.
- When were you born?
- In 1920. I graduated high school in 1938. I’ll be 97 in a couple of months.
- Is there one era of Saratoga you prefer over another?
- I just love Saratoga. Period.
- What’s the biggest change in the city?
- You can’t find your way down to Broadway with all the buildings, haha. But, that doesn’t bother me.
- What was Saratoga Springs like when you were growing up?
- Everything was so calm and wonderful. The neighborhood kids playing ball in the street. The circus came to town every year. In the ‘50s it got kind of drab because a lot of the stores on Broadway started closing up, but it was just an amazing place to live and to grow up. You never wanted to leave it. I still don’t. We had so much going on. I remember when company would come over from out of town we would give them the tour, and my God, it went on forever. North Broadway. Union Avenue. Yaddo. it just went on and on. And those are all still there.
- Did you go to the racecourse often?
- I started going to the racetrack on my birthday in 1938. I bet two bucks. And every year on my birthday I would win the Daily Double! It was funny because the people who knew me would follow me around on my birthday. I had no rhyme or reason to bet, except that I had two dollars and I liked the colors and the horses’ names. I saw a lot of the big horses. Whirlaway was one. Native Dancer was another.
- You have a book signing coming up on June 8. What’s next?
- I think I’ve got another book in me. Why not? I’ll only be 97.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For 40 seconds, most everyone in the crowd of nearly 5,000 people inside the SPAC pavilion and several thousand more seated outside on the lawn kept their eyes closed in an exercise in the expression of gratitude led by Oprah Winfrey.
“Serve the calling of your soul,” the popular former television talk show host instructed. “Use more of YOU, to bring forth the light.”
Winfrey, author and scholar Wes Moore, and journalist and education advocate Ann Rubenstein Tisch were each awarded a doctorate of letters, and the achievements of more than 600 graduates were celebrated during Skidmore College’s 2017 Commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
Winfrey spoke for nearly 30 minutes and stressed each individual find their way through life’s varied stages by following the instinct of their own truth. Mohau Mazibuko – one of three students enrolled at Skidmore this year who came from Oprah's Leadership Academy for Girls in Africa – was a member of the graduating Class of 2017.
“Every decision I ever made that led me to the right space and place in life, I got there because I relied on my inner voice – the truth of me,” explained Winfrey, urging attendees to develop their spiritual muscle by practicing gratitude – something she said she does every day.
Among the graduating class were Pete Donnelly – who returned to school 25 years after taking a leave of absence to spend full-time as a member of the band The Figgs – and Lulu Simon, whose parents Edie Brickell and Paul Simon joyfully watched the day’s ceremonies from their seats in the front row.
Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach offered congratulatory remarks to students, noted their graduation gowns were composed of recyclable materials – “symbolic of Skidmore’s commitment to sustainability,” he said – and appointed them “ambassadors for liberal learning” in their future endeavors as they crossed the divide into the real world.
Moore jokingly apologized that his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” was required reading at the college, and Tisch urged graduates to prepare for life’s inevitable challenges by seeking the opportunities wrapped within them. “Learn to re-define failure as part of the process of success,” she said.
Perhaps the day’s most passionate words were spoken by graduating student Abude Al-Asaad. The co-chair of the Senior Gift campaign dutifully thanked teachers and trustees, jokingly welcomed affluent parents now broke because of tuition costs and “people who show up at random such events,” and shared the emotional journey from his upbringing in a Syrian refugee camp to the day’s celebration of his graduation, even as his family was not permitted to enter the country to witness their son’s graduation.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Call it SoBro.
Plans are underway to revitalize the entrance to the city via the South Broadway gateway with the proposed development of a contemporary four-story mixed-use building on an under-utilized lot currently occupied by the Saratoga Diner. The diner closed in 2012.
The three-acre project includes 110 single and two-bedroom apartment units, two floors of commercial space, and a new business incubator collaboratively partnered by Saratoga Economic Development Corporation and Saratoga CoWorks.
The proposal is currently making its way through the city application process, and expectations are that the project is in compliance with existing zoning and height ordinances. Should the process go well, it is anticipated the diner could be demolished and new construction begun next spring. The structure could be fully operational by the summer of 2019.
Plans call for 46 one-bedroom units - monthly rent will start at about $750 per month - and 64 two-bedroom units – which will rent for approximately $1,650 per month, translating overall to a rate of approximately $1 to $1.35 per square-foot. The apartments will be marketed to local workers in the service and hospitality industries, police and fire department members, teachers, hospital workers, young professionals and downsizing empty nesters. A long-term lease of the parcel, owned by the family who operated the diner for several decades, is being contracted with KCG Development of Indianapolis.
The ground floor will feature 7,000 square feet of retail space, 4,000 square feet of service establishment space – such as what would house a salon or barber shop - and a 7,500 square-foot food beverage or brew pub, which will act as a visible anchor on South Broadway. Streetscape improvements include street lamps, landscaping, and a total of 273 parking spaces for resident and commercial parking uses.
The second floor will house 17,000 square feet of commercial space where two new tenants are expected to join SEDC’s 10,000 square foot “incubator,” a flexible co-working space to be inhabited by a rotating group of entrepreneurs and early-stage growth business teams.
“We already have more than a dozen project teams at all different stages going through the incubator right now from a virtual standpoint,” said Ryan Van Amburgh, economic development specialist at SEDC. “We will spearhead this initiative – these 10,000 square feet – and that’s why we brought on Saratoga Co Works, because they have a proven model from an operation standpoint. There will be a mixed-use of private office space, co-working office space, programs, seminars, and workshops.”
The environment also provides the opportunity for cross-collaboration between working groups to occur. “It allows us to take people literally from the ‘I have an idea’ stage all the way through commercialization, and then accelerate beyond,” Van Amburgh explained.
“People can come in at different stages. We’ll have teams that came in and say: I’m a serial entrepreneur and I need an investor, what can I do? Or, somebody has a manufacturing product, but needs help with distribution,” he said. “It really allows any entrepreneur to come in at any stage. Even at that napkin stage where they’re literally writing in a coffee shop: Here’s my idea. And we take them right through the platform, through commercialization. The companies that come in and just want to accelerate beyond that we help through our mentorship pool, through an advisory team and the community.”
Featuring a residential component, a commercial component, and a component to both nurture and launch entrepreneurship, the goal of the overall project is to inspire new businesses to grow and subsequently set up their own businesses in the local community, as well as to provide housing opportunities otherwise not readily available.
“We’re a membership based organization and it’s made up of the business leaders that drive the economy now. So, they are there to mentor the next generation. That’s how it works,” Van Amburgh said. “This project will be transformative for that area. It will spark more development.”